Raiders go with youth in hiring Kiffin

Published: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

ALAMEDA, Calif. — The Oakland Raiders hired 31-year-old Lane Kiffin as their head coach Tuesday to rebuild a three-time Super Bowl champion that fell to the NFL's worst record this season.

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Indianapolis Colts tight end Dallas Clark turns up field after catching a pass against the New England Patriots during the AFC Championship on Sunday. The Colts take on the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI on Sunday, Feb. 4, in Miami.

The Associated Press

Kiffin, the offensive coordinator at Southern California, became the youngest head coach in club history, and the NFL's youngest in several decades. Though Kiffin has just one season of experience as an NFL assistant coach, owner Al Davis didn't hesitate to put him in charge of his franchise.

"I'm extremely excited about this opportunity and where I see this place going," Kiffin said at the Raiders' training complex. "It's a historic franchise that has had greatness and has fallen on tough times, but we will bring it back to where it was before. We will do that through hard work. I'm prepared to roll up my sleeves and go to work."

The Raiders also will retain defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who built an above-average defense last season despite the offense's woes.

Davis has fired three coaches in the last four years while attempting to get his club back to respectability. After losing to Tampa Bay and former coach Jon Gruden in the Super Bowl following the 2002 season, Oakland has endured four straight losing seasons, culminating in its NFL-worst 2-14 campaign in 2006.

As Davis reflected on what he called the "year of infamy," he realized the Raiders needed a profound change.

"As time went on, I realized that we had to go in a different direction," Davis said. "We have to move the clock back. We have to get youth in the organization, and we have to go ahead and attack, and with someone who really means that he will attack."

The Raiders have the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft, and now they also have Kiffin in charge of a new offensive philosophy. Oakland managed just 168 points last season — fifth fewest in a 16-game schedule in NFL history — despite decent offensive talent, including receivers Randy Moss and Jerry Porter and running back LaMont Jordan.

Davis fired Art Shell after the season and apparently became determined to hire a young offensive mind to succeed him. This strategy has worked for Davis before: John Madden was just 14 months older than Kiffin when he took over the Raiders in 1969, and the Raiders compared Kiffin's hiring to Madden's appointment in the fourth sentence of their news release Tuesday.

Gruden was 34 when he took over in 1998, and Mike Shanahan was just 35 in 1988. Even Davis became the Raiders' head coach at 33 years, 6 months in 1963 — more than 12 years before Kiffin was born.

"I think, '31 years old, wow, that's young,"' the 78-year-old Davis said. "But you don't have to be old to be great. You have to be good. You have to want it. You have to have a desire, a passion for football."

The Raiders chose Kiffin following serious talks with Steve Sarkisian, Kiffin's 32-year-old fellow USC assistant. Kiffin and Sarkisian worked with Pete Carroll and Norm Chow to create the impressive offense of the back-to-back national champion Trojans, who also won the Rose Bowl earlier in the month.

Kiffin, a former Fresno State quarterback, is younger than a number of players who finished the season with Oakland, including defensive tackle Warren Sapp, fullback Zack Crockett and receiver Alvis Whitted.


Russ Grimm was hired as the Arizona Cardinals' assistant head coach and offensive line coach Tuesday, two weeks after he interviewed for the head coaching position.

Grimm's hiring comes two days after erroneous reports that the Pittsburgh Steelers had chosen him to replace retired coach Bill Cowher. Grimm wanted the Steelers job, but said he was happy to reunite with Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, a former Steelers staffmate.

"It's about 23 degrees and snowing, so I'm looking forward to the weather," Grimm told reporters on a conference call from Pittsburgh.

Grimm interviewed for the Cardinals' and Steelers' top jobs. After the Cardinals hired Whisenhunt, Grimm appeared to emerge as the leading candidate to succeed Cowher.

On Sunday, a published report in the Pittsburgh area said the club would promote Grimm. But the Steelers instead hired Minnesota defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin.

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